An Artist's Dream Restored

When Geoff Reynolds suffered a stroke, his artistic dreams came to a crashing halt. Four years ago, Geoff was pursuing a master’s degree in studio art at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, continuing his life-long passion of creating art and fulfilling his goal to one day become an art teacher. The stroke quickly put him out of commission for both his artwork and collegiate degree.

Geoff Reynolds, Local Artist

Geoff, an East Alton, IL resident, was first admitted to a nursing home after his stroke in June 2010. He lived in two different nursing homes after that for more than 2 ½ years, not making much progress with recovery.

“Those years were really rough for me. I didn’t want to live in a nursing home – no one does,” he said. “I felt trapped there and without hope.”

That’s when IMPACT Center for Independent Living (IMPACT CIL), a United Way supported agency, stepped in. They received a call about Geoff from a nursing home staff member who knew that, with the right kind of help, Geoff could live on his own once again. IMPACT CIL met with Geoff to perform assessment tests, and shortly after, they admitted him into their Community Reintegration Program.

“Through the program, we pay the first month’s rent and deposit, buy furniture, provide any medical equipment required and basically have a home ready for them that meets their individual needs,” said Tiffany Breden, IMPACT CIL transition coordinator, who worked with Geoff. “Then, once they are moved into their new home, we visit daily, weekly or monthly depending on where they are in the recovery process. We help them with everything from doing housework to running errands, buying groceries – things that many of us take for granted that we can do on our own at a moment’s notice.”

With IMPACT CIL’s help, Geoff started to make great strides in his recovery after reintegrating into a home of his own in February 2013.

“The first meeting we had with Geoff while he was still in a nursing home, we could only see a small glimmer of his personality. He seemed so withdrawn and discouraged,” said Shelly Richardson, IMPACT CIL transition coordinator, who also worked with Geoff. “Once he had a place of his own again and we started visiting regularly, the more we saw his personality come though – one that is funny, positive and full of life. It was so inspiring to see the change that occurred in both his physical ability and personality once he knew he was getting his life back.”

Not only was Geoff excelling in the recovery process, he was also beginning to get back into doing what he loves – creating art. At the start of transitioning into his own home, he began to start sketching anything that caught his eye.

“All I’ve ever wanted to do in life was to be an artist,” Geoff said. “Right now, I’ve worked my way up to doing colored-pencil drawings, but my goal is to get back to being able to do oil paintings, watercolor and many of the things I used to do.”

Before the stroke, Geoff worked as an artist in advertising and design for a variety of companies across the region. He was a jack-of-all-trades when it came to art, creating everything from oil paintings, print advertisements, steel jewelry and rings, pottery, watercolor and fine glass work.

He estimates he has created tens of thousands of pieces of artwork throughout his life thus far, and he is well on his way to adding dozens more since he’s been in his own home. His rate of creating new pieces of artwork for the past few months has been two or three each day, depending on the difficulty and detail of the piece, he said.

He attributes his success in recovery and ability to continue pursuing his love of art to IMPACT CIL’s help.

“I can’t say enough about how IMPACT helped me get here. They have been truly fantastic, and Tiffany and Shelly are like family to me,” he said. “Whenever anyone asks me about my experience at IMPACT, they practically have to make me stop talking because I could go on forever about what they’ve done for me. They’re life-changing.”

Currently, Geoff is saving up funds to return to pursue his master’s degree and also to have some of his latest pieces framed and ready for a gallery showing. He remains positive about his experience and what the future holds, evening cracking a few jokes.

“The stroke actually seems to have opened me up in my artwork,” he said. “My work used to be more flamboyant, but the stroke has cornered me down to detail. The next series I want to create … I think I’ll call it a ‘stroke of luck’.”

Thanks to United Way’s support, IMPACT CIL is able to annually help more than 2,500 people like Geoff through specialized programs and services for those with disabilities in Madison, Macoupin, Jersey, Bond, Greene and Calhoun counties in Illinois. IMPACT CIL Executive Director Cathy Contarino said that the funding they receive from United Way of Greater St. Louis plays a big part in their ability to continue offering these services.

“United Way is instrumental in allowing us to be able to provide resources and advocacy to persons with disabilities,” she said. “Thanks to United Way, we are able to help many people like Geoff regain their independence.”

About IMPACT CIL

IMPACT CIL promotes pride and respect for people with disabilities by sharing the tools that are necessary to take control of one’s own life. IMPACT CIL advocates full community participation, with supports, of all citizens. They have been a United Way funded agency since 1986.

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